Junk food and mental health

“Junk food” and mental health

By Gabriele Fantelli

Diet, food preparation and production, over the past 60 years have been a particularly important factor in the rise of poor mental health in the industrialised world.

Several studies have found that mental health disorders such as ADD, Depression, Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia are clearly linked to a rise in “Junk Food” intake and the lack of essential fatty acids (Omega 3,6,9), vitamins and minerals, especially within the Western diet. The scientific evidence linking poor diets to behavioural and mood-related problems is growing quickly and constantly. Further reports would also suggest that Governments’ bill for mental health care will continue to rise unless they start focusing on food farming, food production and processing, diet and food education.

What we eat and how it’s produced and stored can have an immediate and sometimes lasting effect on our mental (and physical) well-being and it feels like this particular subject has been neglected by those in charge of food policies.

There has been a few pioneering programmes that have included diet and food “therapy” within the psychiatric therapy. 

Patients taking part in one study conducted by Caroline Stokes at Rotherham, South Yorkshire in 2006 had some of the poorest diets ever seen; "They are eating lots of convenience foods, snacks, takeaways, chocolate bars, crisps. It's very common for clients to be drinking a litre or two of cola a day. They get lots of sugar but a lot of them are eating only one portion of fruit or vegetable a day, if that." Caroline observed.

The “food therapy” of these participants would include fatty acids (Omega 3,6,9), fish, leafy vegetables, nuts and food rich in Tryptophan. It would also include advice on cutting down on “junk food” and replace it with a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables, oily fish, lean meats, nuts. After just a few months of therapy a significant reduction in depression symptoms were noted.

Over the last couple of years more research has been carried out into the way nutrients can aid mental health and Omega fatty acids and B-Vitamins seem at the forefront of the breakthroughs. 

Not only does junk food lack many of the ‘good’ brain foods, it actually includes many of the foods ‘bad’ for mental health conditions, including white sugars, caffeine, deep fried foods, pesticides, refined carbs and additives such as MSG and aspartame.

It can be difficult, especially when suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health complaint, to take great care of our diets, but it really is an essential part of our mental health care.

To learn more about mental health and diet please see our Mental Health ‘Eating for good mental health’ book.

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